Ready for spring? AccuWeather has a sneak peek of the long-range forecast
No matter what Punxsutawney Phil prognosticates on Feb. 2, AccuWeather meteorologists say it will still feel like winter for more than half of the nation over the next six weeks.
Will it be an early spring or a long winter? AccuWeather’s Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok offers his prediction on what Punxsutawney Phil’s forecast will be on Groundhog Day.
The middle of January marked the halfway point in meteorological winter, which comes to an end in just five weeks on the final day of February. But, AccuWeather meteorologists warn that major outbreaks of cold air and waves of snow may make it feel like winter well into March for some parts of the country.
When it comes to springtime weather forecasts, Punxsutawney Phil is the unofficial meteorologist of the animal kingdom. The world’s most famous groundhog will emerge from his burrow on the second morning of February to make his annual meteorological prognostication, declaring six more weeks of winter if he sees his shadow or announcing an early spring if his shadow is nowhere to be found.
Ahead of his much-anticipated prognostication, AccuWeather’s team of long-range forecasters has released a sneak peek of weather conditions expected in the coming weeks. Even if Phil calls for an early spring, AccuWeather meteorologists say that millions of Americans may want to hold off on putting snow shovels and heavy coats back into storage.
Groundhog Club handler A.J. Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 136th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
The start of spring could be similar to the first phase of winter when bitterly cold air froze virtually every area east of the Rocky Mountains and sent AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures more than 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit in Cleveland and Chicago.
A similar Arctic intrusion is possible around the same time that meteorological spring commences when the calendar turns from February to March.
"A March shake-up can occur," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Paul Pastelok, adding that the polar vortex may dive southward across the contiguous United States around the start of the month.
The polar vortex is more than a term for cold weather. "The polar vortex is defined as a mass of cold air that is tightly bound to polar regions by strong counterclockwise winds known as the polar jet stream," AccuWeather Meteorologist La Troy Thornton said. When the polar vortex over the North Pole is displaced and migrates southward, it can unleash some of the coldest air of the winter season.
Pastelok added that the polar vortex could briefly chill the U.S. around the start of February then again in late February or during the first part of March, resulting in significant temperature swings and an uptick in heating costs.
Cold shots could occasionally spread across the interior West late in the winter and the opening stanza of spring. The East may go through temperature flip-flops due to warm and cold surges of air. Meanwhile, residents in the Southeast may enjoy conditions more typical of spring for most of this period.
The cold air will likely fall short of reaching parts of the Southwest, allowing springlike weather to arrive in Phoenix and Los Angeles during the first part of March. Areas farther north, such as Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, will have to wait until April for warmer conditions to take hold.
Depending on the timing and extent of the cold air, it could be a "very active March" for severe weather, Pastelok explained.
"If the cold air is focused more in the Rockies and northern Plains initially," Pastelok said, "then severe weather could be frequent and strong from the Plains to the Tennessee [and] Ohio valleys."
He added that higher-than-normal water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico will aid in the development of thunderstorms and rain across the central Gulf states and Tennessee Valley.
The transition from winter to spring could also bring a few more waves of rain and mountain snow to the West Coast, including California.
Southern California and the Colorado basin will still be dealing with drought, according to Pastelok. However, an occasional storm or two during the middle and latter stages of winter can bring some needed relief.
The late-winter and early-spring storms in California may not be as frequent or as furious as the storms that kicked off 2023. From late December through the first half of January, large areas of California received over half of their annual rainfall. In the higher elevations, yards of snow piled up, including 190 inches of powder at Mammoth Mountain, located 100 miles south of Lake Tahoe.
The onslaught of storms improved the drought across California, completely erasing the extreme and exceptional drought conditions across the state. More rounds of precipitation late in the winter and early spring will continue to lessen the severity of the ongoing drought across the region, unlike in 2022 when a dry end to winter and start to spring caused the drought to worsen.
What will the rest of the spring bring to the United States? Will La Niña continue to influence the weather patterns across North America? When will Old Man Winter pay his final visit to major cities before giving way to prolonged warmth?
AccuWeather will have the answers to these questions and more with the release of the full U.S. spring forecast on Wednesday, Feb. 1. Be sure to tune into the AccuWeather Network on the morning of Thursday, Feb. 2, to watch live Groundhog Day coverage from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
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